Many Web servers and proxies are implemented as as single-threaded event-driven processes. This approach is motivated by the belief that an event-driven architecture has some advantages over a thread-per-connection architecture , and that it is more efficient than process-per-connection designs, including ``pre-forked'' process-per-connection systems. In particular, event-driven servers have lower context-switching and synchronization overhead, especially in the context of single-processor machines.
Unfortunately, event-driven servers have been observed to perform poorly under real conditions. In a recent study of Digital's Palo Alto Web proxies, Maltzahn et. al.  found that the Squid (formerly Harvest) proxy server[5, 22] performs no better than the older CERN proxy. This is surprising, because the CERN proxy forks a new process to handle each new connection, and process creation is a moderately expensive operation. This result is also in sharp contrast with the study by Chankhunthod et al., which concluded that Harvest is an order of magnitude faster than the CERN proxy.
Maltzahn et. al.  attribute Squid's poor performance to the amount of CPU time Squid uses to implement its own memory management and non-blocking network I/O abstractions. We investigated this phenomenon in more detail, and found out that the large delays typical of wide-area networks (WANs) cause Squid to have a large number of simultaneously open connections. Unfortunately, the traditional UNIX implementations of several kernel features used by event-driven single-process servers do not scale well with the number of active descriptors in a process. These are the select system call, used to support non-blocking I/O, and the kernel routine that allocates a new file descriptor. (We refer to the descriptor-allocation routine as ufalloc(), as it is named in Digital UNIX, although other UNIX variants use different names, e.g., fdalloc().) A system running the Squid server spends a large fraction of its time in these kernel routines, which is directly responsible for Squid's poor performance under real workloads.
We designed and implemented scalable versions of select() and ufalloc() in Digital UNIX, and evaluated the performance of Squid and an event-driven Web server in a simulated WAN environment. We observed throughput improvements of up to 43% for the Web server, and up to 58% for Squid. We observed dramatic reductions in CPU utilizations at lower loads. We also evaluated these changes on a busy HTTP proxy server, which handles several million requests per day.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 gives a brief overview of the working of a typical event-driven server running on a UNIX system. We also describe the dynamics of typical implementations of select() and ufalloc(). Section 3 describes our quantitative characterization of the performance problems in select() and ufalloc(). In Section 4 we present scalable versions of select() and ufalloc(). In Sections 5 and 6 we evaluate our implementation. Finally, Section 7 covers related work and and offers some conclusions.